12 Oct 2010

Using Flickr to bring languages to life.

The defining moment of my A-Level language studies was the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany in 1990.  As a 17 year old, it was the reason why I was studying German, and why my interest in languages really took off. (Despite me being much better at French!) During this exciting period, I was desperate for news surrounding the events in Berlin, and the nearest we ever got to hearing first hand what was happening came from friends of friends who knew somebody who lived somewhere in East Germany.  There was a rush to buy newspapers, catching the main highlights of the BBC Six O'Clock News, and a general sense of excitement and a huge surge of interest in all things German.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo by antaldaniel

Fast forward twenty years, internet is everywhere, news is instant, and it is seemingly straightforward to get involved with the news stories of the day.  One of the most moving ways we have used the internet for this purpose at school is through the use of Flickr, the photo hosting website.  In September, it was reported by Flickr that the site now hosted in the region of 5 billion images.  With thousands of photos being uploaded daily, it's easy to search for a photo of a major event that has just happened.  We've done this with our A Level students to search for news items that are going on in the French/German/Spanish speaking world.  Where Flickr has enabled us to be more inventive has been the ease with which we have been able to get in touch with the actual photographers - the people behind each of the photos who have been on the whole willing to share with words what they were prepared to share with their images.  I've had students get in touch with people who have taken photos of riots, protests, images that have stirred emotions, and images that provoke reaction.  Yet unlike in 1990, we can instantly get in touch to find out more about what is happening in the world around us.  Students have been really engaged and motivated by getting in touch with a range of people, who in turn have been inspired by the fact that a group of people have taken such an interest in their work.  It has brought to life some of the contemporary topics that we teach, it has made languages relevant, interesting and so important to understanding what is going on in the world.

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